Demystifying Acupuncture

by Monique Bain, L.Ac., Dpl.Ac.

Acupuncture is a 2000 year old ancient form of medicine and the most commonly

used medical practice in the world. Acupuncture is the insertion of very thin needles in specific points of the body. The East explains that acupuncture regulates the qi (pronounced “chee”) or life force which flows in the body along pathways called meridians. The West explains acupuncture as being the stimulation of specific points located near or on the surface of the skin, which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in the body.

How does acupuncture work? There are many different answers to that question and not simple. Several studies have shown that various biochemical and physiological changes happen to the body during an acupuncture treatment. One of the explanations says that acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity, and inserting a needle at these points stimulates various sensory receptors, and in turn stimulates nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system at the base of the brain. These glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body's natural pain-killing hormones. The substances released as a result of treatment relax the whole body and regulate serotonin in the brain which plays a role in human and animal disposition.

Is acupuncture only for pain? That is a very common misconception. As explained before, acupuncture brings on various biochemical and physiological responses in the body. For example, endorphins play a big role in the functioning of the hormonal system and are 200 times more potent than morphine. The release of such endorphins not only helps with pain but also PMS and infertility. Serotonin levels have been connected to depression, so the increase of those levels is how acupuncture is a great alternative for the treatment of depression. The physiological effects observed throughout the body during an acupuncture treatment include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief of pain, relief of muscle spasms, and increased T-cell count which stimulates the immune system.

What can acupuncture treat? Acupuncture can treat an array of different ailments. The World Health Organization (WHO), the health branch of the United Nations, as well as the National Institute of Health (NIH) found acupuncture to be effective in the treatment of over 50 common problems. Some of the most common include: addiction, anxiety, asthma, arthritis, bronchitis, carpal tunnel, fatigue, constipation, dental pain, common cold, depression, digestive trouble, eye problems, diarrhea, dizziness, fibromyalgia, headaches, migraines, menopause, nausea, vomiting, sinusitis, tennis elbow, stress, sleep disturbances, sciatica, pneumonia, menstrual irregularities, indigestion, facial palsy, frozen shoulder, fertility, numbness, pain. The U.S. Air Force treats everything from battlefield wounds to post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) with acupuncture.

Does acupuncture have side effects? The most common side effects are very pleasant and include: better sleep, more energy, mental clarity, better digestion, less stress. The less pleasant include: emotional release, lightheadedness, occasional bruising, muscle twitching.

Does it hurt? Most people relax during treatments and find it to be restful. Some report a mild tingling, heaviness, warmth or a dull ache at the acupuncture point, which is the sensation of qi moving. Acupuncture needles are not hollow needles (like those used to take blood or give injections). They are solid and as thin as a human hair. Most patients are very surprised at how relaxed and calm they feel, and for some patients, it is their chance for a "time out" from life.

How long is a session? An acupuncture session can last from 15 minutes to one hour. It depends on the patient and the illness; every patient is unique and requires a customized approach.

Can acupuncture help me? Acupuncture is suitable for all ages, including babies, children and the elderly. It is very effective and can be integrated with conventional medicine.

How many treatments will I need? The number of treatments required depends on the severity and duration of the symptoms to be addressed. For chronic health conditions of years or even life-long duration, a longer course of treatment is normally required.

Does my insurance cover acupuncture? Several health insurance companies as well as Workmen's Compensation cover for acupuncture treatment. When calling to make your appointment, make sure to give your insurance information and have the office check on your benefits.

How do I find a reputable acupuncture physician? Acupuncture physicians in Florida are licensed and they are trained three to four years at an accredited graduate program after their four year undergraduate degree. Acupuncturists may be certified by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), a national organization established to regulate the practice. After passing national exams, acupuncturists are designated as board certified or diplomates. The NCCAOM maintains a directory of certified practitioners on their website NCCAOM.org.

Some physicians offer treatment known as medical acupuncture, a kind of mini acupuncture based on a much shorter course study, normally 200 to 300 hours. An accredited study program in acupuncture includes 1700 to 2500 hours of graduate study. Make sure to look for a qualified acupuncture physician that has had the extensive study.

What should I expect on my first visit? The first treatment is normally a longer session and lasts from 45 minutes to 1.25 hours. You will be asked to eat a light meal and refrain from drinking alcohol before and after treatment.

Acupuncture treats the whole patient, not just the symptoms, taking into account the individual's unique pattern of illness. Instead of feeling frustrated by conventional methods, look into acupuncture as a possible alternative. In just a few sessions you could experience relief from any one of dozens of hard to treat conditions by stimulating your body’s innate healing abilities, something prescribed drugs cannot do.

Monique Bain, L.Ac., Dpl.Ac. has her practice at Five Element Wellness Center, 7310 West McNab Road, Suite 107, Tamarac. For more information, visit 5ewc.com and call 954-657-8342. See ad page 43.

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